The environment in the news

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Tuesday, 29 April 2008

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News

  • Canadian Press: UN officials blame market speculation for global food price jump

  • BBC: UN chiefs hold food crisis summit

  • Famagusta Gazette: Exceptional price rises coupled with water shortages

  • New Haven Register: Nobel winner urges Yalies to change world

  • Sudan Tribune: Sudanese climate researcher awarded top UN environment prize

  • Accra Daily Mail: Nature/Medicine - Biodiversity loss: It will make you sick!

  • Boston Globe: Environmental havoc looms for Bhutan

  • Manawatu Standard: Plastic fantastic for fair trade

Other Environment News

  • AFP: US secretary concedes biofuels may spur food price rises

  • Reuters: Food price hikes fuel anti-ethanol moves in U.S.

  • Reuters: Russia says has no plans to cap carbon emissions

  • Reuters: Steel firms warn EU climate fight could hit jobs

  • Reuters: Poor children main victims of climate change: U.N.

  • Guardian: Sweden's carbon-tax solution to climate change puts it top of the green list

  • BBC: Warming 'affecting poor children'

  • AFP: US pressed to put wolves back on endangered species list

  • BBC: Nature's carbon balance confirmed

  • Reuters: Australia splashes A$13 bln to secure water supplies

  • Bloomberg: Australia to Spend A$12.9 Billion on Better Water Use (Update1)

  • BBC: Steel firms warn EU climate fight could hit jobs

  • Environment News Service: Melting Andean Glaciers Could Leave 30 Million High and Dry

  • Christian Science Monitor: Potent greenhouse-gas methane has been rising

Environmental News from the UNEP Regions

  • ROA

  • ROAP

  • RONA


Other UN News

  • Environment News from the UN Daily News of 28 April 2008

  • Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of 28 April 2008 (none)

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
Canadian Press: UN officials blame market speculation for global food price jump

20 hours ago

GENEVA — UN officials on Monday blamed market speculation for the recent jump in global food prices and called for a concerted effort to ensure the world's poor can afford to feed themselves.

"We have enough food on this planet today to feed everyone," the head of the UN Environment Program, Achim Steiner, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.

But, he added, "the way that markets and supplies are currently being influenced by perceptions of future markets is distorting access to that food."

"Real people and real lives are being affected by a dimension that is essentially speculative," said Steiner, noting that millions have found themselves unable to pay for food since prices began to rise steeply at the start of the year.

Last week, the World Food Program asked for an additional US$755 million to fill the hole in its budget caused by rising prices and growing reliance on food aid among the world's poor.

Steiner's comments were echoed by the UN's right-to-food advocate, who said that high food prices were destabilizing the world.

Jean Ziegler told reporters at the UN's European headquarters in Geneva on Monday that the "daily massacre of hunger" was being worsened by private equity companies seeking to profit from price swings on the international commodities markets.

Last week, a U.S. government regulator rejected the idea that speculative trading was the primary culprit behind surging prices of corn, wheat and other crops.

Bart Chilton, a commissioner with the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said commodities markets were functioning properly, and that shrunken harvests, smaller grain inventories and the declining value of the U.S. dollar were the reason for the all-time price highs.

But over the weekend Vietnam moved to curtail speculative buying of rice after consumers were panicked into buying up stocks.

State media quoted Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Sunday as insisting that supplies in Vietnam - the world's second-largest rice exporter after Thailand - were "completely adequate" for domestic consumption. He warned that any organizations and individuals speculating in the commodity would be "severely punished."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called the heads of all the global body's major agencies for a meeting this week in the Swiss capital, Bern, to discuss the food crisis. Other senior figures including World Bank President Robert Zoellick and the director general of the World Trade Organization, Pascal Lamy, are also attending the closed gathering.

Steiner said underlying problems in global food production needed to be addressed.

Governments should resist giving in to panic about short-term price increases, he said, and instead consider medium-and long-term solutions to the problem of feeding a world population already numbering some 6.5 billion and expected to hit nine billion by 2050.

"What we would clearly not welcome is a simple ratcheting up of the production machine without any consideration of the consequences," said Steiner.

The UN Environment Program estimates that 70 per cent to 80 per cent of the world's water consumption goes toward agriculture, yet 40 per cent to 60 per cent of that water never actually reaches the fields.

Likewise, over-reliance on fertilizers boosts production in the short term but depletes the soil in the long run, according to UNEP.

"Sustainable agriculture will cost us a little bit more but will actually allow us to feed a lot more people," said Steiner.

He said market corrections will eventually cause the speculation bubble to burst, but governments should consider the current situation a warning of what might come unless farming and consumption patterns are changed.

"The footprint of a western consumer today on the planet is simply many times that of a person living in a developing country," said Steiner.

"We need to think in medium-to long-term responses, but not forgetting that we have a real situation right now with tens of millions of people essentially being priced out of feeding themselves."

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BBC: UN chiefs hold food crisis summit

Imogen Foulkes
BBC News, Berne

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due to announce details of new measures to tackle the global food crisis.

The announcement is expected after a meeting of UN aid agency chiefs in the Swiss capital Berne.

The UN estimates up to 100 million of the world's poorest people now need food aid due to soaring food prices.

The cost of staple foods like rice, grain, oil and sugar are all at least 50% higher than they were this time last year.

In the short term, the World Food Programme needs an extra $755m (£380m), as its original budget for 2008 will not be enough to cover rising prices and increased demand.

Long-term challenges

But raising cash may be the easy part. Food riots have focused world attention on rising prices, and some countries, including the UK, have already promised more aid.

The biggest challenge is the long term - how to promote sustainable agriculture, tackle climate change, and at the same time ensure enough food is produced.

Within the UN itself opinions are divided.

The UN expert on the right to food has called for the production of biofuels to be suspended, claiming they push food prices up.

The head of the UN's environment programme, meanwhile, believes biofuels are key to providing alternative energy for the future.

Unrest triggered

World trade talks have been stalled for years because of divisions between rich and poor countries over agricultural subsidies.

Agreement might bring some stability to world food prices, but any deal is likely to be still a long way off.

The increasing costs of basic foods has triggered unrest in several countries.

The Haitian prime minister was forced from office earlier this month after the soaring cost of rice and beans triggered violent disturbances in the capital Port-au-Prince.

A host of countries across Asia have suspended rice exports amid fears that insufficient domestic supplies could lead to acute instability.

The UN's two-day meeting in Berne is being attended by the heads of 20 agencies as well as World Bank president Robert Zoellick and World Trade Organization boss Pascal Lamy.
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Famagusta Gazette: Exceptional price rises coupled with water shortages

By Roderic Pratt 29.APR.08

The year 2008 is already going down as one of exceptional price rises coupled with shortages of essential supplies on local and global levels, placing unprecedented demands on leaders around the world to work together and come up with durable crisis-busting solutions.
Here in Cyprus, current headlines are dominated by the ongoing drought with cuts and rationing of the water supply, while on the international front, record high prices for food, oil and other commodities come against a backdrop of an economic crisis spreading the spectre of recession.
That in turn damages the world community’s ability to handle such huge energy and food problems.
Today, as oil hovers a new record high of 120 dollars a barrel and a two-day United Nations crisis meeting gets underway to address the worsening food crisis, Cyprus is urgently struggling to come up with an urgent course of action to answer the desperate need for new water supplies.
At the same time, there is an equally pressing need to come up with long term solutions to these spiraling dramas, which are all essentially interwoven.
On the question of food, emergency international aid is needed simply to keep existing World Food Programme projects on course by covering the higher costs of food. Further complicating the situation is the current stagnant condition of world trade talks, while at the same time producer countries are stopping exports and facing social unrest and fears of worse to come.
Hence the presence at the UN meeting in the Swiss capital Bern of the heads of 20 international agencies, as well as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the World Bank President Robert Zoellick and the head of the World Trade Organisation Pascal Lamy.
The food crisis spills over to the energy issue, amid arguments over the use of agricultural land for the production of biofuels, forcing food prices up sharply. Biofuels, however, bring some small relief to offset the rising cost of and need for oil.
They are also cited in the debate over their contribution to tackling global climate change and limiting damage to the environment, although there are opposing points of view over their purported benefits.
Other responses to the ever-growing demands for energy include solar, hydroelectric, wind and nuclear power, and that last item on the list is rearing its head on this island’s doorstep, and meeting with consternation.
The Cyprus Green Party has protested at plans by neighbouring Turkey to build five nuclear plants and a nuclear technology centre by 2015, citing the level of seismic instability in southern Asia Minor, lack of expertise and the threat any accident would have on the nearby island of Cyprus.
Those concerns have been echoed by the Commissioner for the Environment, Charalambos Theopemptu, while nine Greenpeace activists were arrested in Ankara after a demonstration involving protest banners flying from the energy ministry in the Turkish capital.
However, Turkey needs to meet its own increasing energy demands and is currently largely dependent on natural gas from Iran and Russia. Bids were invited last month for the country’s first such plant at Akkuyu on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast.
Coincidentally, these protests at the nuclear programme come at the same time as talk of reviving the Cyprus Peace Water project gathers momentum, albeit not apparently at an official (technical committee) level.
The plan would be to build an underwater pipeline from the Turkish mainland to supply water to both Turkish and Greek communities in Cyprus, and would certainly provide a major impetus to negotiations towards resolution of the Cyprus issue.
Perhaps the experience of France with its highly successfully nuclear energy programme might go some way to providing re-assurance about safety levels at any future nuclear power plant, as Paris is keen to export its expertise in an international energy market increasingly looking towards nuclear power.
The UK and Dubai are two examples (see March 28th “Is nuclear taking over from oil).
However, concern at the location of Turkey’s planned first plant (25 kilometres from a seismic fault line) will be harder to overcome. Perhaps some of the answers to this and other concerns in this area and elsewhere lie in the use of multi-tiered energy strategies.
For example wind power in northern Europe sits comfortably with more emphasis on concentrated solar power (using mirrors) further south.
The key to any future success must be rooted in international cooperation and coordination, with constant dialogue to pool ideas and resources, as well as aid efforts. The fact that people are talking today with a sense of urgency on local and global issues can be seen as a source of hope for the distribution of the planet’s natural resources.
For the moment, Cyprus is set to receive shipped water from Greece, but in the future it would prove far less expensive if ferried across the far shorter distance from Turkey, while an underwater pipe would later be the cheapest supply route.
Food and water are our most basic resources, essential for existence. There is the potential for adequate supplies of both if the powers that be can solve the challenges posed by the world’s changing climate and economy. That’s the agenda for Bern and beyond. - Copyright © Famagusta Gazette 2008
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New Haven Register: Nobel winner urges Yalies to change world

Maria Garriga New Haven Register, Conn.

Source: New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) (KRT) Date: April 28, 2008

Apr. 28--NEW HAVEN -- Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai challenged her audience at the Yale Law School to help change the world, even if they just plant one tree.

Maathai has led the Green Belt Movement, a nonprofit agency in her native Kenya that has planted more than 30 million trees in east Africa, among other wide-ranging work to reverse desertification, a consequence of deforestation.

Much of Kenya has been stripped of its tropical forest by traders seeking valuable hardwoods, such as mahogany, and by plantation owners clearing vast tracts of mature forest to make way for monocultural crops.

Maathai had a fellowship at Yale in 2002 and received the Nobel in 2004, after which Yale awarded her an honorary degree.

The United Nations Environment Programme, following her lead, launched the "Plant for the Planet: Billion Tree Campaign" in 2007. Yet after reaching the first billion, people became so enthusiastic about continuing that they raised the goal to 2 billion in 2008. "I said why not?" Maathai said.

They have reached 1.9 billion to date. To check on progress, go online to www.unep. org/billiontreecampaign.

"People come to me for solutions. I don't have them, so I just say 'plant a tree.'"

Maathai's story runs far deeper than tree planting: It put her on a collision course with government officials determined to exploit Kenya's natural resources even if it means stripping the land. She has been promoting democracy and human rights ever since.

Maathai has been beaten and jailed several times for promoting democracy and pushing for Kenya to have multi-party elections. In 2002, Kenyans elected Maathai to parliament after years of resistance to an oppressive regime.

Upon announcing that it had awarded Maathai its 2004 Peace Prize, the Nobel Peace Center issued a press release that said "Peace on Earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment. Maathai stands at the front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa."

Maathai said the Nobel committee has moved beyond calling attention to conflict mediators to focusing on those who prevent conflicts before they erupt. The conflicts usually break out over the distribution of natural resources, such as land, forests and water.

"If we want to live in peace, we have to preempt the causes of conflict," Maathai said firmly.

Maathai believes long-term change, that which arises from the people of a country, can be most effectively achieved through education.

The international media took notice of Maathai again recently when she announced she would not carry the Olympic torch through Kenya's capital April 13 for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Maathai has said China could intervene for human rights in Tibet, Darfur, Burma and Kenya, but has not.

The daughter of farmers, Maathai became the first woman in eastern and central Africa to earn a doctorate in 1971.

Now a professor of veterinary science at the University of Nairobi, she joined a women's group in 1974 and learned while she battled sexism at the university, other women were more concerned with basic needs such as access to food, money and clean water. Since property could only be registered to men, women had a hard time getting money to support their families.

Maathai reasoned trees could provide warmth with wood, money with sales, food with fruit, and heal lands depleted by excessive logging, massive commercial plantations, along with serious erosion.

"I found her inspiring," said Claudia Octavian, 30, of Mexico. Octavian, a student at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said her country faces many of the same issues.

"I'm thinking about going into government, into the Ministry of Environment, to work on these issues."

Kemunto Mokaya, 26, of Nairobi, Kenya, a third-year student at Yale School of Medicine, said she supported Maathai's emphasis on using education to reach students at younger ages.

"It's the same problem with health. People learn about health when they are old. We need to change things from the education side and teach them when they are young."

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